Sir Henry Norris prepares to leave Arsenal, his job complete. May/June 1927

By Tony Attwood

This continues our history of Henry Norris at the Arsenal; there is a link to the full series at the end of this article.  

In the last chapter we saw Arsenal recover somewhat in the League, but then lose the FA Cup final to Cardiff.  Although today it is generally assumed that this was a shock result, at the time Cardiff were the more successful club.  Both teams had been runners’ up in the League in recent seasons, and this year Cardiff were above Arsenal in the league.

However although it was only modest compensation, there was a little relief from the gloom for Arsenal, in that on Monday 2 May Arsenal Reserves beat Chelsea Reserves 3-0 to give them the Combination title.   The Islington Gazette, forever critical of the first team, felt the reserves had been more entertaining than the Football League XI.  I doubt that pleased Mr Chapman very much.

The final London Combinatioin table looked like this:

Pos Team P W D L F A Pts
1 Arsenal 42 30 4 8 124 45 64
2 Leicester City 42 28 5 9 121 61 61
3 West Ham United 42 25 6 11 109 63 56
4 Tottenham Hotspur 42 22 7 13 102 78 51
5 Millwall 42 20 6 16 95 85 46
6 Portsmouth 42 16 13 13 91 75 45
7 Swansea Town 42 18 9 15 91 82 45
8 Reading 42 19 7 16 84 86 45
9 Brighton & Hove Albion 42 17 10 15 93 82 44
10 Charlton Athletic 42 16 10 16 68 83 42
11 Cardiff City 42 17 6 19 91 84 40
12 Crystal Palace 42 16 8 18 81 94 40
13 Queens Park Rangers 42 15 10 17 82 95 40
14 Brentford 42 17 5 20 97 109 39
15 Clapton Orient 42 15 8 19 90 95 38
16 Luton Town 42 15 8 19 90 95 38
17 Chelsea 42 17 3 22 66 73 37
18 Watford 42 14 8 20 66 102 36
19 Southend United 42 13 8 21 85 97 34
20 Southampton 42 13 6 23 62 95 32
21 Coventry City 42 11 5 26 58 94 27
22 Fulham 42 10 3 29 59 119 23

Arsenal now had two League games left to play and on 4 May they caught up on one of their outstanding games, losing 3-2 away to Bury.

That left just one game – the north London derby match at Tottenham.   It was played on 7 May and ended in a 4-0 win to Arsenal.

These last two games saw a new face in goal for Arsenal – John Moody who had been one of Chapman’s first signings on 27 August 1925.  He had come from Hathersage FC in Derbyshire, and the game against Bury was his debut, with him keeping his place for the Tottenham game.

However Moody turned out not to be the keeper that Chapman was looking for, as he only played a further four games for Arsenal before being transferred to Bradford PA on 17 May 1928.

As a result of the win against Tottenham Arsenal finished 11th, and were thus just in the top half of the table (there being 22 clubs in the league), which under the terms of his contract, earned Chapman a bonus of £250.   The final league table looked like this, with it must be noted Cardiff falling away dramatically at the last to end up below Arsenal. They undoubtedly didn’t mind because they had the one major trophy that the club has earned to this day.  Other than the FA Cup they have won the Championship once, and the Welsh Cup on numerous occasions.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Newcastle United 42 25 6 11 96 58 1.655 56
2 Huddersfield Town 42 17 17 8 76 60 1.267 51
3 Sunderland 42 21 7 14 98 70 1.400 49
4 Bolton Wanderers 42 19 10 13 84 62 1.355 48
5 Burnley 42 19 9 14 91 80 1.138 47
6 West Ham United 42 19 8 15 86 70 1.229 46
7 Leicester City 42 17 12 13 85 70 1.214 46
8 Sheffield United 42 17 10 15 74 86 0.860 44
9 Liverpool 42 18 7 17 69 61 1.131 43
10 Aston Villa 42 18 7 17 81 83 0.976 43
11 Arsenal 42 17 9 16 77 86 0.895 43
12 Derby County 42 17 7 18 86 73 1.178 41
13 Tottenham Hotspur 42 16 9 17 76 78 0.974 41
14 Cardiff City 42 16 9 17 55 65 0.846 41
15 Manchester United 42 13 14 15 52 64 0.813 40
16 Sheffield Wednesday 42 15 9 18 75 92 0.815 39
17 Birmingham City 42 17 4 21 64 73 0.877 38
18 Blackburn Rovers 42 15 8 19 77 96 0.802 38
19 Bury 42 12 12 18 68 77 0.883 36
20 Everton 42 12 10 20 64 90 0.711 34
21 Leeds United 42 11 8 23 69 88 0.784 30
22 West Bromwich Albion 42 11 8 23 65 86 0.756 30

Huddersfield Town, Chapman’s old club, after three successive titles slipped to second, while West Ham became the top London club.  And in its summary of the season the Times made an interesting observation: that the development of Joe Hulme as a right winger for Arsenal was one of the most notable events.  It turned out to be a clever observation.

Hulme had been signed on 5 February 1926 from Blackburn Rovers and had played 15 times in his first season at Arsenal.  However in 1926/7 he had played 37 league games and all seven of the FA Cup games, and he stayed at Arsenal until 1937/8, playing 333 league games scoring 107 league goals before moving to Huddersfield on 6 January 1938.  He thus won the league three times, and the FA Cup twice, and played nine times for England.

But although the season was over, the events that had been unleashed by the issue of the dispute concerning the financing of the reserve team bus continued to rumble on.   JJ Edwards next met with Sir Henry to put to him the suggestion made by Sutcliffe that Sir Henry should retire as an Arsenal director in order to make things easier for the club.

Now such a move has been seen by some who have commented on this period in Sir Henry’s life as being an admission of guilt by Sir Henry, on the grounds that he was a man who would not back down unless he absolutely had to.   However I think this is a complete misreading of the man.   If we consider Sir Henry’s period in politics first as a councillor, then as Mayor of Fulham, and finally as MP for Fulham, Sir Henry likewise made a clean break from politics when he had had enough.

If you have read that part of this story you may remember that Sir Henry decided not to fight his seat in Fulham in the general election after he had been elected, and broke all his ties with his local political party in Fulham, and with the many good causes that he and his wife had supported across the years.   There was no interim phase – once the argument broke out concerning the issue of the funding of the local party, Sir Henry announced that he was leaving politics, and did just that.

Likewise when Sir Henry left the army at the end of the war in 1918, he went because his job was over – that was not his decision.  He made no effort to stay on; he simply walked away.  His advice on the issue of extending the call up of troops to Ireland had been rejected, the policy adopted had turned out to be a disaster, and having demobilised himself (as the officer in charge of demobilisation) that was that.   Indeed we have no record of him attending any reunions or meetings after he was demobilised from his work in the War Office.

And again, when we consider his building company, after that stopped it is true that he had a minor involvement with Lord Kinnaird’s company, but that was building one or two minor structures a year.   He did not return to full scale property development.

In short Sir Henry showed himself throughout as a man who simply moved on once the job was over.

But what Sir Henry did do at this point was put in a series of expenses claims for costs that he had paid for out of his own pocket and which he felt should have been charged to the club.   Although some of these would be a matter of debate – for example returning upon request to Arsenal from his home in France, and which might or might not be granted according to policy, some were perfectly normal – such as furniture which had been installed in the offices of Highbury and which Sir Henry had paid for.

This latter claim shows that Sir Henry was in the habit of paying for Arsenal related items himself and then claimingthe money back – but that he was often slow in doing so.  It is in fact the same process as appears to have happened with the bus – Sir Henry paid for it, but didn’t get the money back straight away.

In one way that would be helping Arsenal since it eased their cash flow and it is something that I have certainly seen in companies up to the present day.   However today there has to be proper paperwork – but it seems that either Sir Henry was slack in this regard, or quite simply, it was not nearly so vital to have every invoice in place.  I would need to find an expert in the conduct of small business affairs in early 20th century England to resolve this.

Now it is true that having been the club with the best crowds in the country for the 1924/5 season, Arsenal no longer held that crown, but their attendance average in 1926/7 was above that 1924/5 average, and the club was making a good profit.   Sir Henry had achieved what he had set out to achieve – he had made Arsenal a club that was financially viable.  And how!

Season Div 1 av AFC av AFC pos Top attendance Crowd
1924/5 21,609 29,485 20th Arsenal 29,485
1925/6 22,597 31,471 2nd Chelsea 32,355
1926/7 22,881 30,054 11th Newcastle United 36,510

Yes in 1925/6 Chelsea had overtaken Arsenal to become the club with the highest average attendance, and Newcastle in their title winning year of 1926/7 had done the same.  But what Sir Henry had produced was a club whose crowds would stay at the high end of the spectrum no matter what the club was doing on the pitch.   In 1925/6 Chelsea had looked to be likely to win promotion from the second division – so their crowds shot up – as with Newcastle the following year.  By 1929/30 Newcastle’s average attendance had slipped back to 32,559 – reflecting a decline in their league position.

This was quite possible the greatest triumph of Sir Henry’s thinking and planning concerning Arsenal: the creation of a club that would make a profit not matter what happened to the results.  And it happened at Arsenal for all the factors that we know about: the creation of the local rivalry with Tottenham (which had raised the average crowd at both clubs), the ease of transport arrangements (not just Arsenal station, but also Finsbury Park and the overground lines that ran from there, and the size of the ground.

The next event in our story occured on 23 May an affidavit was sworn by Islington police chief John William Kearns, explaining his part in the sale of the Arsenal reserve team bus in 1926.

This statement said that on 7 July 1926 a cheque for the purchase of Arsenal’s reserve team bus was taken by local police chief John Kearns to Arsenal’s offices at Highbury on behalf of the buyer of the bus, the garage owner Mr James MacDermott.  The cheque was made payable to Arsenal FC but the amount had not been filled in.  Kearns handed the cheque to Harry John Peters, who completed the details on it by writing on it an amount of £170, the agreed sale price.  Peters made out a receipt for the cheque, which Mr Kearns later gave to MacDermott, and handed the cheque onto Herbert Chapman as the club manager.  

There were also almost certainly at this time discussions between Herbert Chapman and Bill Harper, Arsenal’s goalkeeper who was left out of the games at the end of the season and so missed the Cup Final.   He had played 19 games in 1925/6 and 23 in 1926/7, and was unhappy about his treatment.

At some stage in May it would have become quite clear that Chapman was not going to make Harper the automatic number 1 choice, and so after two seasons he left to join Fall River FC in the USA, the attraction being the much higher salaries that were paid in the USA, where there was no maximum wage restrictions.  He stayed here for two seasons before returning to Arsenal on 18 September 1930 when the Fall River club prepared to move to New York.

Elsehwere in the news on 24 May the UK broke all diplomatic relations with the Soviet Unions over accusations that the USSR had been engaged in espionage and agitation.   It was in retrospect not the best move, as on 9 June the Soviet Union executed 20 British citizens for allged espionage.

On 26 May the solicitor JJ Edwards wrote on Sir Henry’s behalf, to Charles Sutcliffe confirming that Henry Norris would resign from the board of Arsenal no later than the next AGM of the club and confirming that the League had agreed that there would be no further investigation into Arsenal’s account.

Clearly preparing to retain a close friend inside the club, Sir Henry then sold 25 shares to George Allison (who had been at the club in 1910 as the programme writer, and was at the time a regular reporter on the club for several newspapers), which allowed Allison to become eligible to stand for election as a director of the club.  Allison clearly followed this route, and was elected as a director at some stage between the end of May and mid-August 1927.

It is also worth pausing to note at this point how close Sir Henry and George Allison must have become by now, and the consider once more the later action taken by Chapman to stop the BBC from broadcasting radio commentaries (for which of course Allison was the commentator).

On 13 June the Times reported that there would be a benefit match at Highbury for George Hardy to be played on 21 September against Corinthians.  I would imagine that, as with the sale of shares to Allison, and with Sir Henry how having confirmed that he was going, he was also sorting out the loose ends of his time at Arsenal.

However now a problem arose. Because although Sir Henry had settled matters with the Football League, with his resignation being part of the deal, he had not managed to arrange anything with the Football Association.

Although I don’t have particular information of the relationship between the League and the FA at this time, it is clear that quite often the two authorities would go their own way and insist on their ability to hold their own enquiries into matters they deemed to be of concern.

This separation between the Football League and the Football Association is unsual in football, and most countries have never felt the need to separate the two bodies, but the origins of the game in England has led to this split – with the FA being the protector of the amateur game in the early days, and thus opposed to the actions of the League in introducing a professional competition.

So in the last week of June 1927 the Football Association Emergency Committee, the committe which ran the daily affairs of the FA, agreed to a request for an investigation into the financial affairs of Arsenal.   That request had come from of all people William Hall, which shows how much the two men who came together to set up and run the highly successful property partnership in Fulham around 30 years before, had fallen out.

The news of the investigation was made public on 27 June.  Athletic News, always friendly towards Sir Henry, stated that the enquiry was to be held so that everyone could clear their names.

The series continues…


Details of the whole series of articles on Henry Norris at the Arsenal can be found here including an index to a selection of articles covering the election of Arsenal in 1919 – which is a topic that is still seemingly considered contentious in some quarters, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

An index to our various series published prior to this one, and to the anniversary files can be found on the home page.

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